#Blackfish Archives: Keto/Alexis Martinez Incident Reports

After Alexis Martinez was killed by Keto, both SeaWorld/Loro Parque and the Canary Islands OSHA equivalent launched investigations into the incident. These reports are the most detailed and revealing accounts of exactly what happened between Keto and Alexis Martinez (and you can read my reporting and analysis of what they mean in my story about Alexis’ death).

Here is the SeaWorld/Loro Parque corporate incident report:

Here is the Canary Islands Dept. Of Labor Report (Spanish):

#Blackfish Archives: Alexis Martinez Case Files

Continuing to archive documents and reports related to the tragic death of trainer Alexis Martinez at Loro Parque in December, 2009, this upload includes (in Spanish): Preliminary Pathology; Police Interviews; Hospital Summaries; Autopsy Report; Excerpts From Alexis’ Diary Of Work At Loro Parque; Timeline Summary of Loro Parque video of incident; Labor Dept. Investigation.

Blackfish Archives: Profile Of Keto

Loro Parque Killer Whales

In December 2009, killer whale trainer Alexis Martinez was killed at Loro Parque in the Canary Islands by Keto, an orca that had been transferred there by SeaWorld. At the time, Martinez’s tragic death got little attention. But when SeaWorld trainer Dawn Brancheau was killed just over two months later at Sea World in Orlando, Martinez’s death became the warning that no one listened to.

I wrote a story investigating how and why Martinez was killed,  how it was handled, and why it was relevant to Brancheau’s subsequent death. In the course of my reporting, I collected a lot of documentation. As part of my ongoing effort to post documents and materials collected during my reporting on killer whale captivity to a publicly accessible Blackfish Archives, I am posting Keto’s SeaWorld profile as the initial document which helps tell the story of Keto and Alexis Martinez (at the time my story was published I also posted a detailed and troubling review of the many problems at Loro Parque written by Suzanne Allee, who worked at Loro Parque). .

Morgan’s Fate At Loro Parque

Screen Shot 2014-02-22 at 9.59.30 PM

A decision on whether Morgan, the lost young female orca, should remain at Loro Parque is due anytime, and could be released this Wednesday.

The arguments over Morgan have always been based on two completely different, and contradictory, narratives of her life at Loro Parque. Today, over on The Dodo, I took a look at what both sides claim regarding Morgan’s well-being, and how a pregnancy is the big wild card, and would seal her fate if it happens.

Here’s a key part of the story:

Loro Parque, in a statement e-mailed in response to a request for comment, calls Visser’s argument “erroneous and misleading,” as well as “emotionally charged. The statement goes on to try and rebut each of Visser’s claims one by one, and dismisses Visser’s work as an “animal activist opinion piece.” For Morgan, the statement flatly states, “negative welfare conditions do not exist.”

“I’m not an activist. I am a scientist who happens to care about the welfare of animals,” Visser responds. “There is a big difference.” Moreover, Visser’s research and conclusions about Morgan’s life at Loro Parque have won an interesting advocate in Jeff Foster, who spent decades catching killer whales, dolphins, and other animals for SeaWorld and other marine parks. Foster knows a lot about killer whales and how they handle captivity, and is not opposed to captivity for killer whales if they are well-integrated into a stable environment. After observing Loro Parque’s videos of Morgan he was initially skeptical that her experience at Loro Parque was as negative as Visser believes. But based on two trips to observe Morgan (the most recent was last Fall), Foster says he fully agrees that the group of SeaWorld killer whales at Loro Parque is dysfunctional, that Morgan has not been well-integrated, and that Morgan is suffering. “It’s pretty obvious. She’s crying out in distress almost all the time,” Foster says. “You usually don’t hear those vocals from animals unless they are really in distress. The only time I’ve heard them is when we were catching whales and separating them from their families.”

You can read the whole thing here.

Here’s a brief video, showing Morgan’s isolation during a show at Loro Parque earlier this year.

When (Not) Seeing Is Important

As regular readers will know, I like to say “Seeing Is Important” because seeing helps people understand (and believe) the reality of what goes on in the world, whether at a marine park or a factory farm.

So I was struck by the following tidbit in Elizabeth Batt’s report on legal threats made against Dr. Ingrid Visser over her reports about orca Morgan’s experience at Loro Parque.

This is the gate at the entrance to Loro Parque’s Orca Ocean as it was last June (and was when I was there last year):

And this is the same gate in July 2011 (and presumably today):

Notice a difference? Visser has used her camera to tell Morgan’s story at Loro Parque in devastating detail. So Loro Parque took measures to make it hard or impossible for visitors to see what is going on with the orca outside of shows.

It’s an obvious response. But when an industry or corporation is blocking access, and becoming less transparent, it is a sign that all is not well inside, and that the industry is afraid of what the public might think if they truly understood what goes on behind closed doors (and hastily erected fences). For that sort of business “Not Seeing Is Important.”

Batt publishes one other “A Picture Is Worth A Thousand Words” picture taken by Visser. It shows SeaWorld’s Chief Zoological officer, Brad Andrews, taking in the orca show alongside Kiessling.

SeaWorld, despite protestations to the contrary, has long had a very close working relationship with Loro Parque, and helped launch its orca program. If Morgan is used for breeding it will bbe very interesting–and telling–to see where the calves go.

Anyhow, I doubt that fences or legal threats can slow Visser down. And her work is making a difference, judging from the number of people who have signed this petition calling for Morgan’s release. The Dutch court will issue a ruling on Morgan’s fate on Dec. 13. Whether it calls for the revisitation of the Dutch ministry decision to send Morgan to Loro Parque or not, Visser will have accomplished something very important simply by making so many people aware of Morgan’s story.


Blood In The Water (Spanish Version)

Loro Parque is again in the news, thanks to the fact that a Dutch judge has decided that the orca Morgan will be sent there rather than be returned to the wild.

So it is a good time to publish a Spanish translation of my article, “Blood In The Water,” which goes into great detail on the lives of the killer whales at Loro Parque and the tragic December 2009 death of trainer Alexis Martinez.

Many thanks to Sebi McLean, a diver who worked at Loro Parque for a time, for taking the trouble to to do the translation.

How Did SeaWorld Florida Handle Waterwork After Alexis Martinez Died?

Credit: Rishi Menon/Flickr

One of the key questions in the OSHA versus SeaWorld smackdown happening this week in a courtroom in Sanford, Florida is: how did SeaWorld’s parks respond to the Dec. 24, 2009 death of Loro Parque orca trainer Alexis Martinez, killed by a SeaWorld killer whale called Keto during a training session supervised by SeaWorld trainer Brian Rokeach?

It is key, because it goes to the question of whether SeaWorld was indifferent to the risks waterwork and close contact with killer whales posed to its trainers. Mike Scarpuzzi, SeaWorld San Diego’s vice president of zoological operations, testified yesterday (according to my notes) that SeaWorld Florida, where Brancheau was killed two months later, took its trainers out of the water on Dec. 25, and returned them to waterwork on Dec. 27th or so.

Today, SeaWorld Florida animal-training curator Kelly Flaherty-Clark also discussed the death of Alexis Martinez. She discussed the corporate incident report and talked about reviewing the video of Alexis’s death, captured by an underwater camera. She was critical of how Brian Rokeach handled the moments leading up to Alexis’ death, saying: “He made decisions spotting the session that I would not have made, that my team here [at SeaWorld Florida] would not have made.” Flaherty-Clark also was critical of the general level of experience of the trainers at Loro Parque, saying “I understood that the level of experience of trainers at that park did not mirror the level at my park.”

It was against this background that Flaherty-Clark said she, in consultation with SeaWorld Florida management, made the decision to return SeaWorld Florida’s trainers to the water.

When I reported the story of Alexis’ death I went to great effort to try and figure out when SeaWorld’s parks removed trainers from the water in the aftermath, and for how long. Since SeaWorld would not tell me, with the help of a friend who is a master of Flickr searches, I turned to photo evidence. What Flickr photos of SeaWorld Florida’s Believe shows, in the days after Alexiss Dec. 24 death, seem to show is that SeaWorld Florida continued waterwork on Dec. 25 and 26, removed trainers from the water for one day, Dec. 27, and had them back in the water on Dec. 28.

Of course, it is possible that the date setting on a camera might be wrong, but this photo of Dawn Brancheau, for example, explicitly says it was taken on December 25 (see the caption).

Seaworld Trainer - Dawn Brancheau
Seaworld Trainer - Dawn Brancheau This is a picture I took on Christmas day 2009 whilst on holiday with my family in Florida. It was a great show and we were really impressed with the whales and trainers. This is Dawn Brancheau who was tragically killed during an accident at the park Wednesday, February 24th, 2010

And here is a waterwork photo from Dec. 26, and another from Dec. 28.

I’ve published the full list of photos at the end of this post so you can see what you think of them, and decide what they show, yourself.

If these photos show what I think they show, then Scarpuzzi’s testimony about when SeaWorld Florida was out of the water was not quite accurate, and SeaWorld Florida waited two days after Alexis died to pull its trainers from the water, and then kept them out of the water for only one day (the other parks waited longer).

The other thing I have been wondering about how SeaWorld Florida handled the suspension and resumption of waterwork in the aftermath of Alexis’ death is: how much could Flaherty-Clark and SeaWorld Florida management have known about what happened at Loro Parque just two days after Scarpuzzi arrived in the Canary Islands to help Rokeach handle the tragedy and find out what happened?

In her testimony Flaherty Clark discussed the incident report and video, but Scarpuzzi testified (according to my notes) that he left Loro Parque, to return to the United States to brief the parks on his investigation and show the video, on Monday, Dec. 28. So by the time he arrived in Florida, it appears that SeaWorld Florida trainers were already back in the water with the killer whales. And the decision had been made, it seems, before Scarpuzzi had made his full presentation on the incident, which included the underwater video, to the training team at SeaWorld Florida.

Of course, Flaherty Clark and the management team at SeaWorld Florida may have seen a draft of the incident report before Scarpuzzi returned, or may have discussed its content with Scarpuzzi by phone. But it seems unlikely they had seen the video before ordering trainers back into he water, unless Scarpuzzi e-mailed it somehow over the weekend. I’d love to know when Flaherty-Clark first saw a draft of the incident report, and when she first viewed the video.

Flaherty-Clark also testified that she discussed the decision to return to the water, which presumably occurred Dec. 27 or the morning of Dec. 28, with the trainers who would be going back in the water. But how much could they have known about what happened at Loro Parque if they hadn’t yet been briefed by Scarpuzzi, and hadn’t yet viewed the video, as appears to be the case? And from what I learned in my reporting about how SeaWorld handled Alexis’ death, trainers learned what they know about the incident from Scarpuzzi’s briefing and the viewing of the video. I don’t believe that the corporate incident report was shared widely with trainers, or made available to trainers in the way that SeaWorld incident reports normally are.

Perhaps there are good answers to these questions. SeaWorld did not want to talk about this when I was doing my reporting, so I am piecing a timeline together from a variety of sources, and sharing the questions the timeline, if I have it straight, raises. It is a critical timeline, and the issues go straight to the heart of the courtroom battle between SeaWorld and OSHA.

Here are the photos of waterwork at SeaWorld Florida in the aftermath of Alexis Martinez’s death:

Dec. 25:


Dec. 26:


Dec. 27:

No photos found

Dec. 28:


Anatomy Of An Orca Transport: Cranes, Planes, And Automobiles

Keto At His Latest Destination (Credit: Estel Moore)There are killer whales on the move. Ike has been transported from Marineland to SeaWorld San Diego. A rescued killer whale called Morgan is threatened with transport from the Netherlands to Loro Parque, unless a judge blocks it (ruling will be issued Nov. 21). And I’ve been getting word that there might be other transfers within the SeaWorld park system.

For those of you who can’t imagine what it is like to ship an orca, or have never seen what is involved, here is a set of pics from my friend KC. They show Keto being crated for transport, from SeaWorld San Diego to SeaWorld Ohio, in April 2000. Keet and Sumar were moved at the same time.

For background, Keto was born at SeaWorld Orlando in June 1995, shipped to SeaWorld San Diego in June 1999, then to Ohio in 2000, then on to SeaWorld San Antonio in February 2001, and finally to Loro Parque in the Canary Island in February 2006. It was at Loro Parque that Keto killed trainer Alexis Martinez in 2009.

It’s impossible to imagine what must go on in the mind of an orca, a creature of the sea that is already in the alien world of humans, as it is slinged, crated, trucked, and flown to a new marine park pool. According to Keto’s profile, he struggled to acclimate at Sea World San Diego and showed aggressive tendencies towards trainers, so very little waterwork, and no show waterwork, was done with him there. When he was moved to SeaWorld Ohio, it took him longer than Keet and Sumar to acclimate and respond to trainers, but he did eventually become a reliable waterwork animal. And by the time he was sent to SeaWorld San Antonio he seemed to have the transfer routine down, acclimating quickly and doing show waterwork within two months of arrival.

Here’s the SeaWorld San Diego end of the Ohio move.

The crane arrives…

Lifting high in the sling…

Toward the transport container…

In the transport container…

Sumar and Keto ready for trucking…

And here is a video which shows Keto landing in the Canary Islands, and arriving at Loro Parque:

A Close-Up Look At Loro Parque

Orcas at Loro Parque.
Image via Wikipedia

In my recent story, “Blood In The Water,” I told the story of the tragic death of Alexis Martinez at a marine park in the Canary Islands, drowned by a killer whale called Keto on December 24, 2009. One of the key sources for that story was a woman named Suzanne Allee, who supervised the audio-visual department of Orca Ocean, the killer whale complex at Loro Parque, from early 2006 into the summer of 2009.

After Suzanne heard about the death of Martinez, whom she knew quite well, she was moved to write up a report on what she had witnessed at Loro Parque, believing that Loro Parque was not a safe environment for the four killer whales there (on loan from SeaWorld), or for the trainers who continue to work there. I highlighted the key elements of Suzanne’s testimony in my article, but her report has much more detail than I could include. With her permission, I am posting the full report here, as it is of great interest and importance to anyone who would like to know more about Loro Parque, and the events that led up to the death of Alexis Martinez.

Loro Parque’s response to Suzanne’s report and her interviews with me was included in Blood In The Water. In upcoming posts I will dig deeper into some of the issues Suzanne raises, and what my reporting and dialogue with SeaWorld and Loro Parque uncovered beyond what I wrote in Blood In The Water. I also want to get into greater detail about the condition and experience of Tekoa, another killer whale at Loro Parque.

But as a start, here is Suzanne’s full report (some names have been redacted for privacy reasons):

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